Ecclesiastes 9 – The Best Way to Live Under the Sun
A. In light of death, live life and make the best of a bad thing.
1. (1-6) The despair of death: the same thing happens to everyone.
For I considered all this in my heart, so that I could declare it all: that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God. People know neither love nor hatred by anything they see before them. All things come alike to all:
One event happens to the righteous and the wicked;
To the good, the clean, and the unclean;
To him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice.
As is the good, so is the sinner;
He who takes an oath as he who fears an oath.
This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.
For the living know that they will die;
But the dead know nothing,
And they have no more reward,
For the memory of them is forgotten.
Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished;
Nevermore will they have a share
In anything done under the sun.
a. The righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God… All things come alike to all: With his under the sun premise – excluding any sense of eternity or accountability in a life to come – man can know neither love nor hatred by anything they see before them. Creation can tell us God is; it doesn’t tell us very well that God loves us.
i. “We have only to use our eyes without prejudice, according to Psalm 19 and Romans 1:19 ff., to see that there is a powerful and glorious Creator. But it takes more than observation to discover how He is disposed towards us.” (Kidner)
ii. Seeing beyond this under the sun perspective, we can say that we should not measure God’s love by what happens in life. We measure God’s love by what Jesus did at the cross.
ii. The Preacher has once again allowed his thoughts of God’s sovereign power (in the hand of God) to develop into fatalism (all things come alike to all). The thought process may go like this: “I know God rules over all things.” Then, “It seems that the same thing happens to all; all die without real meaning revealed for their life.” Finally, “The all-powerful God means it to be this way.”
b. One event happens to the righteous and the wicked… as is the good, so is the sinner: This develops Solomon’s idea that all share the same destiny in this meaningless life of ours. This is certainly how things appeared to Solomon with his under the sun premise.
c. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: Speaking from his premise, the Preacher says that all have the same fate, but he does not like it. It’s wrong that one event happens to the righteous and the wicked.
i. “To all appearances, God is just not interested. The things that are supposed to matter most to Him turn out to make no difference – or none that anyone can see – to the way we are disposed of in the end. Moral or immoral, religious or profane, we are all mown down alike.” (Kidner)
d. For him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion: This makes perfect sense from an under the sun perspective. If all existence and consciousness end with death, then the only thing that matters is this present life (and therefore nothing really matters).
e. The dead know nothing… Nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun: With great poetic effect, Solomon puts forth the belief that all existence and consciousness end with this life.
2. (7-10) With such a view of life and death, joy is only found in the moment.
Go, eat your bread with joy,
And drink your wine with a merry heart;
For God has already accepted your works.
Let your garments always be white,
And let your head lack no oil.
Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun.Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.
a. Go, eat your bread with joy: From outside of his under the sun premise, we see a touch of humor in the Preacher’s analysis. “Life is utterly meaningless, and our common death and destiny prove it to be so. So forget about all I have said and have a good time.” It is small hope given to despairing men and women, but it is the best he can do.
b. For God has already accepted your works: Given the recent emphasis on the sovereign power of God (Ecclesiastes 7:13, 9:1), we sense both fatalism and wishing in this statement. Perhaps the sense is, “God has already accepted your works – I hope; because if He hasn’t, there is nothing you can do about it.”
c. Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity: Clearly, Solomon knew that enjoying the good things at hand in this life – bread, wine, garments, comforts (let your head lack no oil), and a wife whom you love – none of these took away the meaninglessness of life. “Make your vain life a little better,” he counseled.
i. “White garments and anointing oil make life more comfortable in a hot climate.” (Eaton)
ii. “The demands of marriage include the giving of affection (whom you love; cf. Ephesians 5:25), the active quest for enjoyment (Enjoy life, rsv), a life-long (all…your…life) encouragement amid the responsibilities and duties of life (in all your toil at which you toil).” (Eaton)
d. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going: The Preacher continued to give advice meant to make the best of the bad situation of life under the sun.
i. In the 1960s there was a beer commercial where the announcer said something like this: “You only go around once in life, so you’ve got to grab for all the gusto you can.” The ad writers for Schlitz beer could have properly given credit to Solomon for the idea.
ii. We can apply the attitude reflected in Ecclesiastes 9:10 to our present service for God, and do it with your might. “No man ever served God by doing things tomorrow.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “Man was not created to be idle, he was not elected to be idle, he was not redeemed to be idle, he was not quickened to be idle, and he is not sanctified by God’s grace to be idle.” (Spurgeon)
3. (11-12) Time and chance make life under the sun hard to understand.
I returned and saw under the sun that—
The race is not to the swift,
Nor the battle to the strong,
Nor bread to the wise,
Nor riches to men of understanding,
Nor favor to men of skill;
But time and chance happen to them all.
For man also does not know his time:
Like fish taken in a cruel net,
Like birds caught in a snare,
So the sons of men are snared in an evil time,
When it falls suddenly upon them.
a. I returned and saw under the sun that – the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong: Solomon wondered, “If this life is all there is, then why doesn’t this life make more sense?” In a world that made more sense under the sun, then the swift would always win the race and the strong would always win the battle. Yet it doesn’t always work that way.
b. But time and chance happen to them all: The Preacher again struggles against a sense of fatalism. In his somewhat contradictory way, the one who previously proclaimed God’s management of all (Ecclesiastes 7:13 and 9:1) now wondered if it didn’t all happen according to time and chance.
i. “Time and chance are paired, no doubt because they both have a way of taking matters suddenly out of our hands.” (Kidner)
c. The sons of men are snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly upon them: From his under the sun perspective, it seemed that man was more subject to the whims of time and chance than of a loving, all-powerful God.
B. Unappreciated wisdom.
1. (13-15) Wisdom unrecognized.
This wisdom I have also seen under the sun, and it seemed great to me: There was a little city with few men in it; and a great king came against it, besieged it, and built great snares around it. Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that same poor man.
a. A poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city: Solomon tells a story about a poor wise man whose wisdom saved a city against the siege of a great king. This seemed great to Solomon; it was a wonderful and significant display of wisdom.
b. Yet no one remembered that same poor man: Under the premise that death ends existence and consciousness for all, Solomon protested that the only lasting meaning this man might have – to be remembered – was taken away. The almost unbelievable fleetingness of fame added to the sense of meaninglessness of life.
i. Men quickly forget, but God never does. He knows those who are His (2 Timothy 2:19). He has a book of remembrance before Him for those that fear the Lord (Malachi 3:16), and their names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).
2. (16-18) Wisdom thwarted.
Then I said:
“Wisdom is better than strength.
Nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised,
And his words are not heard.
Words of the wise, spoken quietly, should be heard
Rather than the shout of a ruler of fools.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war;
But one sinner destroys much good.”
a. Wisdom is better than strength: The Preacher knew that even though wisdom is not appreciated, and it is ultimately vain, it was still better than strength.
b. Words of the wise, spoken quietly, should be heard rather than the shout of a ruler of fools: Because wisdom is superior, it should be heard above the shouts of the foolish – even though wisdom will often be unappreciated.
i. “The Preacher continues to emphasize the ease with which wisdom is counteracted.” (Eaton)
c. Wisdom is better than weapons of war; but one sinner destroys much good: Wisdom is better – better than strength (weapons of war), better than foolishness – but all the good that wisdom does can quickly be taken away by one sinner who destroys much good.
i. Solomon sensed that it was much easier to destroy than to build. Establishing things by wisdom is much more difficult than destroying them by the work of even one sinner.
ii. “Adam’s sin infected the whole race of man; Achan’s transgression caused Israel’s defeat (Joshua 7:11, 12); Rehoboam’s folly occasioned the great schism (1 Kings 12:16).” (Deane)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission